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Flashback to 1991: catching up with Alison-Jayne Matthews

Thu, 27 September 2012

In 1991 Alison-Jayne Matthews, of Alison-Jayne Couture, was crowned Top Young Business-Person in the UK Final of the Shell LiveWIRE Awards.
​We find out how things have changed for her and her Belfast-based business

What can you remember about your involvement with Shell LiveWIRE?
I remember LiveWIRE really well, it is hard to believe that I won the UK Final in 1991. Time has flown by! Business is still good and most importantly I am still loving it!! I celebrated 21 years in business last February. LiveWIRE was a fantastic way to begin my first year. It gave me great experience of presenting a new business and the publicity and press coverage was amazing, especially local press in Northern Ireland. No one had ever won from Northern Ireland before and I became a well-known local figure in the world of fashion in Belfast, which seems to have continued through the years!!

How have things changed for you since you won your Shell LiveWIRE award?
Things changed a lot after I won LiveWIRE in that I became well known in a very short space of time. I started as a small couture business offering a personal design service to brides and other clients. The core of the business is pretty much the same today.  We have expanded our designs but still each one is handmade for the individual client.
Alison Jayne Matthews

How have you had to adapt as an entrepreneur over the years?
I had to learn to adapt to different ideas and influences. A lot of pressure was put on me to expand into mass manufactured design and I did much research into the market, but it never rested easy with me as my main love of the business was hand-making each design to a very high quality for a client I got to know (i.e. proper couture!!). I went with my gut feeling and decided not to expand into the manufacturing side of things. Not an easy choice at the time but in hindsight a very wise one, as a lot of the manufacturing factories have closed and I honestly believe if I had grown the company into a much bigger one I would not have survived the recession.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome in business?
The biggest obstacle for me in business was managing staff. Learning how to motivate staff, keep them working and dealing with all sorts of things like sickness, maternity and general attitude! Also, starting off in Belfast in 1991 when the "Troubles" were still a threat had a lot of incentives for small business in the city centre (ie. low rent, reduced rates, grants etc). However, once peace was finally established, (which was of course fantastic for the whole of Northern Ireland!) demand for city centre premises grew so great that many small businesses were forced out of town. My company stayed in the city centre until 2008 when the rising cost of rent and rates meant we had to move a little bit out of town. We are now in an Attic Studio on Belfast's trendy Lisburn Rd, which is made up of a lot of independent retailers.

What are your top 3 tips for a young entrepreneur who is about to set up in business?
1. Research your market thoroughly and produce an honest and simple business plan.
2. Start small and grow your business slowly. It is great to be ambitious but do not let that cloud your vision. Remember it is better to be a small business in business than a big business with no business!
3. ENJOY!! Go into business doing something you actually like doing, then the work ethic will never leave you and you will always be motivated.

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